Romero, Marolt bid farewell to the Board of Education |

Romero, Marolt bid farewell to the Board of Education

Longtime school board members will pass the baton to new electeds

Susan Marolt, left, and her daughter Lucy Marolt stand near the road in Aspen to campaign for the Aspen School District questions on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

In the time Dwayne Romero and Susan Marolt have served on the Aspen School District Board of Education, the two outgoing board members say they’ve seen a philosophical shift in the way the district operates.

“It’s still a work in progress, but there’s a more teacher-student relationship focus in play … and more of a focus on the playing field and the measurement and the creation of a better culture and a better chemistry between teacher and student,” said Romero, who spent nearly six years on the board.

Romero and Marolt will likely bid their farewells at what is scheduled to be their last meeting as board members Tuesday afternoon when newly elected members Christa Gieszl and Stacey Weiss are slated to be sworn in alongside re-elected incumbent Suzy Zimet, so long as the district has the state certification of November election results in hand.

Marolt was term-limited after two four-year go-arounds on the board. Romero, who was appointed in mid-2016 and re-elected in 2017, decided not to run for a second full term because he felt an extended tenure of 10 years on the board would have been “unnecessary” and he wanted to “offer an opportunity for others to step up,” Romero said.

When Marolt started her first term in 2013, “the district was sort of just happy with the status quo,” she said.

“We kept feeling like we were doing well, and taking that for granted a little bit that we were doing a good job for our students and that our teachers were happy,” Marolt added. “And so I think that there wasn’t a huge desire to get constructive feedback in all those areas. … I think we were sort of just taking things for granted, and just going through motions that we had done for a long time, and not really being honest and transparent about how the district was doing.”

Sticking to the “status quo” was no longer an option by 2018, when discontent among parents, leadership and staff boiled over amid concerns about the climate and culture of the district. The board ultimately declined to renew former Superintendent John Maloy’s rolling contract past its expiration date of June 30, 2021, and Maloy announced his retirement toward the end of the 2018-19 school year.

The same year, a survey among district employees revealed a mixed bag of responses showing that staff mostly felt supported by their direct supervisors but also that more than half of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed that “senior leadership can be relied upon to do the right thing even when it’s challenging or difficult.”

The district has since made a concentrated effort to work on climate and culture while also undergoing a major turnover in leadership that resulted in a new superintendent, David Baugh, and fresh faces in nearly half a dozen other leadership positions at the schools and in district administration.

The school board and the public will likely know by Dec. 14 whether that effort has made a difference, when consultant Liz Wilson of the firm Wilson Foxen is slated to report to the board the results of a followup climate and culture “pulse check” survey administered this fall.

Marolt is optimistic the change thus far has been a positive one.

“I’m hopeful that we get feedback that … people feel like they are being listened to, that they are consulted about what’s going on and their feelings about it, that they they feel like the board and the superintendent are transparent about what they’re doing and the decisions that they’re making, and also that there’s kind of across-the-board procedures that everybody knows are in place,” she said.

Still, as Romero noted, the work is far from done.

“(The climate and culture) has changed, and in some ways quite favorably, and in some ways, still in need of further improvement,” Romero said. “I’d be the last board member to say that we are in a perfect spot, and we need not to do much more in that regard, I’d be the last. We still have a ton of work to rebuild relationships, which then starts to rebuild confidence in one another, and from that confidence, we can rebuild trust in one another.”

Though Marolt and Romero will no longer sit on the board, they’re hardly kicking their feet up and calling it a good run with the district.

Marolt will continue to serve on the district’s equity committee, where she has been an active participant in conversations surrounding how the district defines equity and ensures that all students have the opportunity to succeed.

Romero has committed to stay on the housing committee as the district stares down a major bond-funded effort to acquire dozens more units and repair existing inventory over the next few years, an effort that school officials say will go a long way in attracting and retaining employees.

Dwayne Romero and Dr. Susan Zimet participate in an Aspen School District Board of Education candidate forum for the 2017 election on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017.
Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times file photo

Marolt and Romero, who together have a combined 14 years of experience serving on the board of education, had the same advice for newcomers Gieszl and Weiss: keep listening.

There’s plenty of that happening during the election season, when candidates are campaigning, listening to voter input and participating in forums, Marolt said. But it’s just as important now that the ballots are counted, she said. Romero agrees on that front.

“All the commentary through the course of the campaigns and the run-up to the election created some good dialogue,” Romero said, “and I think that we still have a mile to go in terms of continuing to build a strong district again.”